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Character complexity and redundancy in writing systems over human history

Changizi, Mark A. and Shimojo, Shinsuke (2005) Character complexity and redundancy in writing systems over human history. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 272 (1560). pp. 267-275. ISSN 0962-8452. PMCID PMC1634970. doi:10.1098/rspb.2004.2942.

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A writing system is a visual notation system wherein a repertoire of marks, or strokes, is used to build a repertoire of characters. Are there any commonalities across writing systems concerning the rules governing how strokes combine into characters; commonalities that might help us identify selection pressures on the development of written language? In an effort to answer this question we examined how strokes combine to make characters in more than 100 writing systems over human history, ranging from about 10 to 200 characters, and including numerals, abjads, abugidas, alphabets and syllabaries from five major taxa: Ancient Near–Eastern, European, Middle Eastern, South Asian, Southeast Asian. We discovered underlying similarities in two fundamental respects. (i) The number of strokes per characters is approximately three, independent of the number of characters in the writing system; numeral systems are the exception, having on average only two strokes per character. (ii) Characters are ca. 50% redundant, independent of writing system size; intuitively, this means that a character's identity can be determined even when half of its strokes are removed. Because writing systems are under selective pressure to have characters that are easy for the visual system to recognize and for the motor system to write, these fundamental commonalities may be a fingerprint of mechanisms underlying the visuo–motor system.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle
Shimojo, Shinsuke0000-0002-1290-5232
Additional Information:© 2005 The Royal Society. Received 9 August 2004. Accepted 16 September 2004. We thank Dan Ryder, Wei Ji Ma, Patrick Wilken, Alan Hampton and two reviewers for their comments. We also thank Andrew Hsieh, Hao Ye and Qiong Zhang for independently parsing into stroke types a variety of writing systems.
Subject Keywords:writing; reading; redundancy; complexity; letter perception; character recognition
Issue or Number:1560
PubMed Central ID:PMC1634970
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20200929-143508720
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Official Citation:Changizi Mark A. and Shimojo Shinsuke 2005 Character complexity and redundancy in writing systems over human history Proc. R. Soc. B. 272:267–275
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:105658
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:30 Sep 2020 14:52
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 18:45

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